Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Crystal Maze UK: Season 1 (Part 2, Industrial Zone)

Same as before, just a new zone. Whereas teams starting in the Aztec Zone started by rowing two dugout canoes down the world's smallest, calmest river, teams beginning in the Industrial Zone started by climbing over a chickenwire fence. And really, who hasn't managed to invade a chemical factory by doing that?

RED DOORS (Mental): Another cubicle maze. This time, some of the red walls in the 5x6 grid are actually doors allowing access to adjacent cubicles. Two minutes to find the crystal and escape. (Eight playings.)
Again, a decent idea ruined mostly by the cameras. Although the issues with the Aztec Zone's Ropes & Ladders are resolved slightly with the doors, the main issue here becomes how to film the game. There are two basic camera positions used, both overhead, one tracking the player and the other showing most of the grid, with additional insert shots clearly filmed later and edited in (notice the never actually show the player). Not that the latter's a problem - indeed, some of the best fun in this show is seeing the answer before the contestant and yelling at them to hurry up – but as the stationary shot didn't show the top row or left column, one of the things that got lost was the crystal's location (in, I think, the very top-right corner of the maze). And for a game like this, that's kind of unforgivable. Then again, it's not a particularly Industrial game, is it?

INDUSTRIAL MURDER MYSTERY (Mystery): Exactly what it says on the tin, with the clue in the corpse's hand leading to a second clue, and so on until the crystal was found. (Oh, relax. They used a fake corpse.) Three minutes. (Four playings.)
One has to wonder whether this game's existence throughout the show's history – here this season, in the Medieval, Aztec, Ocean, and Futuristic zones respectively during the next four – functions almost entirely as a justification for the entire “Mystery” category. Certainly, most of the other mystery games could be shoehorned into the mental and physical categories without much issue. It's never quite made clear what mystery games are supposed to entail. The official definition is “logic and cunning”, which really fits just about any of the nearly 300 games from the show's six-year run, but which rather ironically doesn't quite apply so much to a game like this, where success amounts to “the clue mentions smoke, I'll look in the cigarette packets!” That's not to say I don't like the game itself, but it doesn't quite fit in with the rest of this season's games. And that's not necessarily a bad thing for a challenge on any show, unless it involves dressing the contestants up as panto cows.

ELECTROMAGNET (Skill): Using a handheld electromagnet, lift one of two balls along a plastic dome and drop it into one of two small holes on a curved surface below. Two minutes. (Five playings.)
Inventive? Yes. A good idea? Yes. Thematically relevant? Yes. Great television? Not so much. There's something to be said for the learning curve in this game – because, let's be honest, nobody's done this before – but unfortunately that thing is not “Wow, interesting!” We're mostly just watching people try the same fairly quick thing over and over again, expecting different results each time. And while it may have been the literal definition of insanity for them, it also managed to drive me mad, and I'm watching an edited version of it 22 years in the future.

MYSTERY BOX (Mystery): Blind item guessing game, with the items hidden behind a wall and the player sticking one hand through a covered hole to feel each. Two minutes to correctly identify four items out of five, with only one official guess for each. (Four playings.)
This is... not a dreadful game. It is also not a good game. As much as I love games where us viewers get to know more than the contestants do, we were shown the items as players felt them, and I still couldn't figure out what many of them were. Combining the ridiculously obscure items with only being allowed to make one mistake, the game was just too hard. It's not surprising that the sole winner had four very simple items – a film canister, a holepunch, a wheelie chair wheel, and metal bottletops. Perhaps it could have been countered somewhat by adding an extra item and making it four out of six, but the items chosen would still be an important factor in determining the game's success.

JEWEL HEIST (Physical): Using several pairs of parallel braces and several fewer poles wide enough to fit in said braces, build a makeshift horizontal ladder across the cell walls to grab the crystal from its elevated perch. Two minutes to succeed. (Six playings, later used on Fort Boyard.)

One of the things The Crystal Maze was always good at was averting archetypes – the mental challenges weren't always jigsaw puzzles and, more importantly, the physical challenges weren't always weightlifting contests. Sure, there were physical games where that was the focus, but the show always prided itself on having a large variety. It's not really entirely clear what the main physical skill required here actually is (flexibility, I guess?), but there's no doubt it's a physical game, and a cool one at that. There's no link to the zone theme, but between the awesomeness of the game and the zone's kind of lame theme to begin with, it can definitely be overlooked.

METAL DETECTOR (Skill): Use a metal detector to locate two buried combination dials for a safe, and a chest containing the combination itself. Three minutes to find everything, insert the dials, and open the safe. (Eight playings.)
There's just one obvious question here, what with how much sand was needed to hide the items without making the challenge completely trivial: Why wasn't this game in the Aztec Zone? I'll grant you the Aztecs themselves wouldn't have had safes or metal detectors (although the archaeologists exploring the area later may have), but they also wouldn't have had mechanical bulls or paintball guns, and we got them in a game. I suppose the issue could be that they needed a bigger room so using the metal detector wouldn't be ruined by the metallic set walls (which may not even have been an issue in Aztec), but couldn't they have just included a slightly larger Aztec room in the set design if they knew this game was planned? It's not like they had the set built before they thought of the game.

SYMBOL ARITHMETIC (Mental): Use a series of symbolic equations and five given symbol values to work out the remaining two, then use all seven numbers to solve three equations on a second board. Three minutes to solve them all, with no help from the players outside and no passing on an equation. (Three playings.)
One of the main issues with challenge design on a show like this is how you use the space available. The game environment has to be large enough to fill the cell, without overfilling it to the point it becomes too hard to complete... or film. Whereas Ropes & Ladders (discussed in the previous post) was too large for such a small cell, this game is probably too small, with just two wall-mounted displays and the crystal dispenser. Then again, moving the props in front of the wall would have resulted in the room looking too cluttered. The game itself wasn't bad, with just the right difficulty level and decent “play along” ability, but the design ruins it.

HUMAN FLY (Physical): Climb cargo nets across the room and up the walls to collect a crystal from a prop spider's eye socket, then return to the door. No touching the floor or the support frames. Three minutes to succeed, but ringing bells suspended from the “web” three times causes an automatic lockin. (Three playings.)
Um. Okay, then. One of the wackier ideas from the first season, but wacky isn't necessarily a bad thing if the challenge itself is good. The challenge here is probably a teensy bit too hard – the only winner set off two bells, both on her way up the net – but having tight finishes like that is great from a dramatic standpoint. And on any show like this, there are bound to be challenges that are deliberately harder than they should be in an effort to stop players from winning everything. I don't see the problem with having some overly difficult challenges, as long as the producers do a good job hiding the fact that it's not meant to be won. Here, they got it right.

SHUFFLE PUZZLE (Mystery): A 5x5 shuffle puzzle, with the completed design a geometric representation of a crystal. Three minutes. (Five playings.)
I don't mind shuffle puzzles. That said, that's only because I happen to be fairly good at shuffle puzzles. The actual strategy to solving them quickly isn't all that hard – get an edge row aligned correctly, then an edge column, then alternate unsolved edge rows and columns until you're done – and knowing this makes it very, very frustrating to watch reality show contestant after reality show contestant completely fail what is otherwise a simple puzzle. How do so many people understand advanced Sudoku logic, yet so few understand these? That very fact kind of makes it a perfect game to play on this show – it's solvable within the time limit if you know what you're doing (especially with about half of the grid already solved), but if you don't, you still have a chance to get lucky.


Next: I strap on some wooden shoes and climb a diseased elm in search of an elusive subterranean.

EDIT for reformatting and to fix a weird issue with font sizing. Apparently, Blogger is compatible with WordPad but not with Office. Who knew?

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Crystal Maze UK: Season 1 (Part 1, Aztec Zone)

As you maybe aware if you read the previous post, I was originally planning to recap and analyse the first half of The Amazing Race 20 today. Unfortunately, circumstances beyond my control mean that will have to wait for another week. So instead, I've decided to analyse part of a British reinvention of a French game show that once made Eva Longoria stick her hand in a jar of rats. Oh, yes. Neither The Crystal Maze nor Fort Boyard (which I also plan to discuss at some point) is really a reality show in the usual definition of the word, but as part of the spate of "adventure" game shows of the 1990s - which would also include things like the original versions of Gladiators throughout the world, the Japanese game show Sasuke, and Australia's very own Who Dares Wins - they can fairly easily be considered the ancestors of reality shows as we know them.

The Crystal Maze has kind of an odd yet awesome backstory. Channel 4 in the UK had wanted to make a version of Fort Boyard after seeing the French pilot, but were unable to when the set (a real-life white elephant Napoleonic fort) was being refurbished for the French debut season when a pilot was needed. Because the French don't do anything by halves. Except wars. The show's creator, Jacques Antoine, then worked with British producers to develop a variant of the same format that could be filmed at an available studio in Britain. The Crystal Maze was then created, adapting the game to make it more compatible with British television but keeping a fairly similar format. Naturally, there's some overlap between the individual games, and I'll try and remember to bring it up if it's relevant.
The maze itself was divided into four temporally-themed Zones - an Aztec village shortly before it was conquered by the Spanish, a Industrial chemical factory, a Medieval dungeon, and a long-abandoned 23rd Century space station - and teams of six spent roughly ten minutes in each before switching to an adjacent zone. Throughout an episode, a team participated in about 13-15 games, each lasting from two to three minutes and with a participant and genre (mental, physical, skill, or mystery) of their choice. Succeeding in the challenge earned them a "crystal" which could be exchanged for five seconds in the final round; however, a player was locked in a game's room if they failed to leave (successful or not) within the time limit or if (depending on the game) they breached some other arbitrary rule. If a player was locked in, the only way they could be released was by buying their freedom with a crystal, giving them an extra player but costing them five seconds. And who do you get to host such an intentionally "wacky" format? Well, Riff-Raff from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, of course. And as much as you can argue that Grant Bowler was perfect for The Mole, or Phil Keoghan is perfect for The Amazing Race, Richard O'Brien was absolutely PERFECT for this show. Although his replacement Ed Tudor-Pole (who had coincidentally also played Riff-Raff on stage) was good during the show's final two seasons, he just couldn't compete.

A number of changes were made throughout the show's history - the Industrial Zone was replaced after three seasons and became the Ocean Zone, for example - but the basic format remained the same throughout. Although most games were repeated several times throughout a season, the overwhelming majority were removed after one season so contestants in future seasons couldn't gain any advantage by watching them. As a result of this recycling, and with a total of well over 180 game playings per season, it would be impossible to analyse a season by episode. Rather, I'll cover each season in four posts, with a zone each - using the order they were visited in both the first and last episodes (Aztec first, then clockwise around the maze to Futuristic) and covering the games in order of their debut appearances. The recap for the Futuristic Zone, as with all relevant season-ending posts, will also contain a link to a PDF file detailing the mental challenges and their solutions where possible. So let's go already. The Mexicans are waiting to see how this compares to the Aussie version of Big Brother deliberately drenching their flag in chili con carne.


ROPES & LADDERS (Physical): Cubicle maze. Most of the cubicle walls in the 3x4 grid have knotted ropes or ladders attached, which must be used to travel between them. Three minutes to find the crystal on one of the twelve cubicle floors and get back out. (Six playings.)

This one's a simple concept, but it doesn't really work too well on television. There are two main problems here - firstly, that the cubicles wound up being too small for the show's two cameras to look into effectively, and that the ropes were too time-comsuming (especially for the game's sole female contestant). That said, I'm not sure the producers could have fixed either of these without sacrificing another part of the game. Having fewer, larger cubicles to fix the camera issue would make the game less physical and more of a crapshoot whether the player would find the crystal hidden among the debris on the floor, but replacing the ropes with more ladders would make the game too quick. Perhaps, with so many other maze games in the other zones this season, it would have been better to save this game for a future year and spend some extra time thinking it through.

BLOWPIPE (Skill): Stand behind a bamboo fence and use a blowpipe and ballbearings to break nine glass targets covering tubes of sand, which will pour into a bucket to counterbalance a weight, releasing the crystal. The smaller targets cover more sand. Two minutes. (Seven playings.)

Standard "primitive culture" challenge seen on shows like Survivor, and yet certainly the game most closely tied to Aztec culture this season. The added complication of the counterbalance made it more unpredictable regarding when the crystal would be released, in turn making a failing contestant's decision regarding when to leave the cell more important. The actual challenge itself was nothing spectacular, so this extra wrinkle was a nice distraction from a design perspective.

BRICK WALL (Skill): Jigsaw puzzle. Fit nine uniquely-shaped blocks, each with a letter on them, into a wall filled with 14 holes. If correctly done, the letters will spell a word and the crystal will be released. Two minutes. (Five playings.)

Even with the decoy holes present, it amazes me that anybody managed to lose this game. How hard is it to find a giant golden letter on one of two flat sides of a given block, spin it so it's the right way up, and fit it into the matching hole? The fact that the correct holes formed a pyramid shape, and that the letters formed a word, was even worse. I know there are some games that are designed to be very winnable in order to not make the final round a foregone conclusion, but... come on, guys. And... why was it a skill game?

SQUARE TO RECTANGLE (Mystery): Four giant puzzle pieces on the ground are arranged to form a square. Two minutes to rearrange them to form a rectangle. (Three playings.)

While the previous game was far too easy, the difficulty was exactly right here. It's easy to say, now knowing the solution, that arranging four pieces - in two identical pairs - into a rectangle is also on the simpler side of things, but I was struggling to figure it out the first time it was played, and I probably wouldn't have gotten it for another few minutes afterwards had the answer not been revealed with the magic of time-lapse filming. It's a deceptively-difficult game, a type which always makes for the best challenges on any show, and it has the added ability for viewers to play along at home. What's not to love?

WALK THE BEAM (Physical): Cross a slowly-rolling log over a pool and grab a pole, then use it to snag an elevated cage containing the crystal and carry it back across to the door. Two minutes to succeed, but the game is over if the crystal gets wet. (Ten playings.)

The most-played game in the show's history. Part of that may be to do with how the first season contained about a dozen fewer games than other seasons, but with two other Aztec physical games this season that clearly wasn't the only reason. Perhaps it had something to do with how many women were chosen for the genre, given only one of the ten players here was male? I can understand the producers thinking a game that amounts to "cross a balance beam and come back" was better and fairer than watching more women completely fail Ropes & Ladders. From a design perspective, this offers an ingenious approach to "breaking" a challenge. Many contestants weren't quite lanky enough to reach the pole directly from the log, and wound up standing on the very narrow ledge around the cell wall designed to hide the support at the far end of the log. Arguably it made coming back with the crystal a little bit harder, as the player had to step backwards onto the log, but the tradeoff just exchanges one difficult element for another. And it was well within the rules as presented (which amounted to "keep the crystal dry"), so why not?

TREASURE HUNT (Mystery): A literal treasure hunt on a diorama divided into a 6x12 grid. The starting cryptic clue leads to a second clue, then to the crystal. Two-and-a-half minutes to find it. (Three playings.)

I could try and provide a detailed analysis of this game, but my distaste for it is such that... can we just say "blecch" and move on? It's not even that it's a bad idea (it's the same basic thing as the murder mystery game that turned up in five zones in five seasons) or that it's that hard (it was won all three times it was played), or the cultural link (which is far less strained a link than in many other games), but there's something here that makes me want to hate it on sight. And I don't know what it is.

SEESAW (Skill): Use a seesaw balanced on a divider wall to reach the crystal, on a small perch high above the far end of the cell. A spade is provided to shovel sand into a box at the "low" end of the seesaw, helping to counterbalance one's own weight. Two minutes to grab the crystal and escape. (Seven playings.)

As far as the games of The Crystal Maze's first season go, this is one of only a small handful of truly inventive ideas, and almost without question the best. It's such a simple idea - "counterbalance your own weight" - and yet the execution of it is wonderful. Too little sand and you wind up too low on the seesaw to reach the crystal; too much and you wind up too high. It really is, to make the obvious pun, quite a balancing act. And yet, one contestant was able to break the challenge by simply using the provided spade to force the crystal from its ledge.

BUCKING BRONCO (Physical): Mechanical bull. While on board, use a paintball gun to hit a light in the bullseye of a large target. Two minutes from the time the bull starts moving. (Three playings.)

This one's a bit of a study in how some challenges really are decent ideas, but are just impossible to make work on a show. There's only two variables here that the producers can actually control: the speed of the bull and the size of the target. Unfortunately, if you make the bull buck faster, the target has to be larger in order to make success plausible. If you make the target smaller to make it more challenging, the speed of the bull has to be slowed down to a point where it becomes trivial. There probably is a point where both aspects are balanced just right to make the challenge hard without being entirely impossible, but with three wins in three playings it feels like the producers erred on the side of simplicity.

WORD PYRAMID (Mental): Using lettered puzzle pieces, build a word pyramid starting with a given seven-letter word and dropping a letter each time until a two-letter word is left. Although each word uses differently-shaped pieces, there are decoys. Three minutes. (Two playings.)

This really wasn't a bad idea. It just made bad television. The structure of the game was such that the pyramid was on a wall, with a jar underneath containing the letter blocks. This meant the most only two real viable approaches to success were to dump the blocks onto the floor and sort them out, or to fit them into the wall as you went and rearrange them until words were formed. The former was a ridiculous waste of time; the latter was too confusing, especially with the decoys. A better approach would have been to give them only the needed blocks, and have them all the same shape. You'd still have contestants who failed to realise that the letter appearing only once needed to go into the six-letter word, for example, but it'd make far better television.

EXCLUDE THE SYMBOL (Mental): Tile puzzle. A 4x5 grid of pieces, each showing 5 cartoon faces, is laid out beneath four additional faces, with five pieces missing. Fit the remaining five pieces in so that the face above each column does not appear anywhere on that column's five tiles. Three minutes. (One playing.)

How much of a challenge's rules do you reveal to a player? That's the conundrum facing producers here. Had they explained the rules even slightly, there would have been no "challenge" in this challenge. But having no explanation at all meant the game's sole contestant spent his three minutes wondering what to do and getting nowhere, just randomly placing the pieces in anywhere. The other issue is that, because there was no identifying mark to differentiate the tiles to be placed from those already in the grid, a single mistake on the first placement would have basically rendered the game unwinnable unless the contestant had a brilliant memory. Perhaps if they'd made the missing tiles a different colour (chocolate brown instead of tan?), the game might have been more successful.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Survivor US: One World Analysis (Part 1)

SURVIVOR US (Season 24)
"One World" (Part I)

Warning: This contains mild challenge and plot spoilers for the first four episodes of Survivor: One World, although it does not mention any particular contestants. Read at your own risk.

I'm breaking this season up to keep it manageable (and to keep it mildly relevant), but will do the rest in two batches at later points, probably at the merge and at the end of the season. This instalment covers the first four episodes, in which tribes were split by gender and lived on the same beach. Aside from this high-concept and well-overdue opening twist (which hardcore fans have been suggesting since at least the sixth season), the first part of the season has really been probably the best example in years of a show actually embracing the "back to basics" concept every show pretends to be using every couple of seasons. The reward challenges have been particularly simple, which is quite welcome. They're also refreshing by their very presence at this early point in the season, having been absent from the second hour of the season since China (nine whole seasons ago), the third hour since Tocantins (six seasons ago), the fourth hour since Nicaragua (three seasons ago) and from the last two seasons almost entirely as a result of the show-damaging Redemption Island twist. The Immunity Challenges so far have been decidedly less simple -- although one is a recycled idea from a previous season -- but that's understandable. The reward is bigger, therefore, the challenge needs to be bigger. But now, let's discuss them one by one, shall we?

Episode 1 Immunity Challenge: Obstacle course. Jump from "a 25-foot-tall tower" into a raised circus net, cross a balance beam, then go through a rope chute bridge to the finish, raising a flag. All obstacles have to be done one member at a time, and everybody must finish before moving to the next.

Simple idea. Too simple for a first challenge, you'd think, right? Well, you'd be correct. The behind the scenes video confirms tribes had to collect four bags of puzzle pieces before the rope bridge, then had to assemble them to work out how to raise their tribe flag. The puzzle isn't shown in either the episode or the video, but it was probably your fairly standard "use the numbers shown as the combination for a lock" deal. But why wasn't it shown? Well, one of the players ignored Jeff Probst's safety instructions (understandable, given how he's generally a nuisance) and broke their wrist after landing wrong on the circus net, causing the challenge to be cancelled. You could be forgiven for wondering why the challenge was even approved with such a dangerous section, but keep in mind that Probst clearly says it's the tower itself that was 25 feet tall. Take out the height beneath the net, and having to step down into the jump, and they were probably only falling about ten feet. Three metres. If that. I'm usually the first to criticise challenges for being needlessly dangerous, but that... really wasn't. It was just a horrible landing by someone who, frankly, had no business being out there to begin with.


Episode 2 Reward Challenge: Untie a group of knotted ropes to free a large metal ring. First to do so wins a tarp, but both tribes get their ropes and the crate they came in.

For the first reward challenge at this point of the season for almost five years, it's remarkably plain. So plain, in fact, that the players were told to run it themselves. Because you know what always makes challenges interesting? Knowing the host doesn't feel it's interesting enough to bother with. It actually wasn't a bad challenge, though. I'd rather a few deliberately smaller challenges each season than have them try (and fail) to impress every week.


Episode 2 Immunity Challenge: Balance beam. Everybody stands on a narrow beam next to each other, then must cross it to the finish platform... starting with the player farthest away.

Recycled from the Vanuatu and Fiji seasons (the former also containing tribes divided by gender), this challenge was rather notable the first time as being a blatant excuse for homoeroticism among both the awesome specimens of male flesh and those who make Ron Jeremy look attractive. This time, however, they decided to play up to it by having a little person and a gay guy on the men's tribe. Unfortunately, they forgot to cast anybody you'd enjoy seeing groping each other in order to get across. I once read a comment on a forum somewhere stating that basically, while good contestants can make decent challenges the stuff of legend, bad contenders can make pissweak challenges even worse. Here, unfortunately, the latter definitely happened. This challenge just doesn't work without the right cast, and gambling on that happening isn't the sort of risk the producers should be taking with their current casting practices.


Episode 3 Reward Challenge: One tribe member at a time memorises a row of items and pulls a lever to cover it from themselves and the other tribe's player. They must then go to a solving station and assemble it. First to do so (trying as many times as needed) scores a point for their tribe. First tribe to five wins a canoe and fishing gear.

I'm honestly not as much of a hater of puzzle challenges as some of the people I've come across in my years as a Survivor fan, but that said, I'm also not a huge fan of them. Part of it may be that in recent years, challenges have tended to be shoehorned in as the final stage of a physical challenge ostensibly to stop the young fit guys from dominating, but the problem there is that you're just replacing "guy who can run an obstacle course quickly" with "guy who can run an obstacle course AND ALSO SOLVE A JIGSAW PUZZLE quickly" as the chief dominator. And somehow the producers still haven't managed to work this out. The better hybrid challenges are those that are more mental than physical, but also require a sense of strategy rather than just having players picking up bags of pieces before running Over There. Like this one. Pull the lever too quickly and you could get it wrong. Pull the lever too late and your opponent could steal the point away from you. There's no "best" time to pull it, making the challenge surprisingly tense for something so simple and generic.

Episode 3 Immunity Challenge: Blindfolded obstacle course. Six players are belted in pairs, a seventh guides one pair at a time to a water tower to dunk themselves and get hit in the head with a bag of puzzle pieces. Once all five bags are untied and collected, the guide assembles them to solve the puzzle.

There's nothing particularly wrong with this challenge. That said, there's also nothing in the challenge that makes it stand out too much either. It's just... there. The obstacle course itself is unremarkable and kind of fails to deliver, and the puzzle seems far too easy for a Survivor puzzle. I'm not sure how much of my complete apathy for this challenge comes from the challenge itself, and how much of it comes from seeing the same basic idea -- caller guides blindfolded pairs around to collect things -- turn up in five consecutive seasons (and six out of the last seven) now. They really need to give it a rest, or at least stop insisting on players being tied together. Having the callers guide seven separate people was chaos, but it was so much more interesting than having them guide one pair around at a time.

Episode 4 Reward Challenge: Giant slingshot. One player at a time shoots coconuts at a tribe-coloured 5x5 grid. Knock out a majority of a target with your coconut and it counts. First tribe to get five in a row (in any direction) wins a choice of three possible rewards.

One wonders whether this challenge was designed only after a contestant in the previous season decreed that Women Shall Not Use Slingshots, but here we are. Again, a simple idea executed well, which seems to be becoming the theme of at least the reward challenges this season. Despite the generally poor challenge design used in them, I tend to like the weapons accuracy challenges as it's not immediately clear who's going to do well, and this certainly is one of the better ideas they've had over the years (compared to, say, the very similar but much more confusing slingshot/battleship challenge in the aformentioned Vanuatu season).

Episode 4 Immunity Challenge: Puzzle relay. Again tied in pairs, one pair at a time runs over a seesaw, solves a puzzle and collects a key, then returns. Each subsequent pair's puzzle is farther away and harder. After all three keys are collected, the final player uses them to unlock three locks.

Like I've already stated, it's not the puzzle challenges themselves that are bad. It's the fact that they're often randomly inserted into challenges as the crucial factor in determining success when the puzzle itself is entirely not what the challenge is about. Here, though, it's the puzzles that are the focus, with the seesaw obstacles being completely superfluous and irrelevant. I suppose the closest equivalent we've had in the past is one of the individual immunity challenges from Australian Survivor (which I maintain wasn't anywhere near as dreadful as its reputation suggests, and which I will analyse here at some point in the future), which managed to combine two fairly well-known mental challenges with a maze, an accuracy challenge, high-level strategic decisions, AND a player getting caught in a tiger cage. Unfortunately, this isn't a patch on that. But this is still the best Immunity Challenge of the season so far. By quite a wide margin, too.


So there you have it. I'll be back with another rant about this season's challenges in a few weeks, but next week I'll be looking at the first half of The Amazing Race 20 (I know, TWENTY! For a show that's constantly on the edge of cancellation, it's really doing rather well for itself), and I may even take a look at a particular foreign reality show that's taken my interest recently as well.

EDIT: Added some space in between challenge analyses because Blogger seems to hate the combination of this font and italics.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Big Brother US: Majority Rules

BIG BROTHER US (Seasons 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, and 13)
"Majority Rules"

This is a fairly simple challenge, and a staple of the American version of Big Brother. Pretty simply, the remaining players are asked a gossipy, Cosmo-quiz question, and must choose one of two housemates as their answer. Those players who select the majority answer remain in the challenge; those players who do not are eliminated. If both answers get the same number of votes, the question is ignored and everybody remaining moves on. The challenge continues until there is only one player left or until the limited number of questions have been exhausted, in which case a sudden death tiebreaker is asked. This particular challenge has always been a Head of Household challenge, which basically means that one player (who won the previous week's such challenge) is out even before the challenge begins.

Have you noticed what makes this challenge so stupid yet? It's literally impossible to get a winner without having to use the tiebreaker question. Think about it. You need exactly one person to win. And what Earth numbers is "one" a majority of? That's right, only "one". If you get down to two people at any point, then any question asked will either wind up with both players picking the same option, deeming it worthless, or picking different options, deadlocking the vote and again deeming it worthless. If you have any higher number, then one is the clear minority and that sole player will be eliminated. In other words, you could just ask the tiebreaker question straight away and still get a result just as valid. Normally, if it was a one-off challenge, you could assume it was just an oversight of the producers' behalf and be done with it. But this challenge has been used - in the exact same format - SIX TIMES. That's just a bad combination of ignorance and complacency.

So, how do we fix this? The way I see it, there are two basic options. You can either run the challenge in the same format with an odd number of players but get everybody to answer every question (with lights or something to help mark who's still in the challenge, and with the odd number of players eliminating the possibility of deadlocked questions); or you can go straight to the "what did this specific subset of players think?" part of the challenge that winds up happening after the first eliminations by having players guess what the player sitting out (and later what they and the other eliminated players) said. Neither option is entirely foolproof - although it's far less likely, there's still a need for a tiebreaker question in both - but surely it's better than the current format.

Or they could just get rid of the challenge idea entirely. It's not an interesting challenge to begin with, really.

The World Is Waiting For... Something

Hi! Basically, I'll be using this wonderful little slice of the internet for a few things. Firstly, to analyse challenges that have appeared on reality TV shows in the past, and attempt to "fix" them if need be. Secondly, to create ideas for new challenges on a variety of reality shows, both past and present. In the former case, the ideas will hopefully serve as a sample of my skills in this field; in the latter, they are also relevant. I'll also explain about the formats of each show chosen where needed, although hopefully not too much will be necessary.